Review Date: May 11, 2002
Released by: Elite Entertainment
Release date: 4/30/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Is there anything that hasn't been said about Stuart Gordon's classic film Re-Animator? Without a doubt, it's easily one of the most popular 2 or 3 horror movies of the 80s. In the mid 90s, Elite Entertainment was possibly the best laserdisc producer in the business, and produced a spectacular special edition. A DVD was released soon afterward, but for a time was difficult to find and even rumored to be out of print. Elite has made those rumors moot by adding Re-Animator to their "Millenium" line of discs. Horror fans everywhere will be ecstatic that someone has injected the glowing green fluid into this film.
Miskatonic University Medical Student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) has a great life. A promising career as a doctor and a gorgeous girlfriend Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), who just happens to be the daughter of the school's dean (Robert Sampson). Well, everything is good at least until he meets transfer student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs).
West had been studying in Europe under Dr. Hans Gruber (not the same guy from Die Hard), advancing new ideas in biochemistry. Since all life and death is a chemical reaction, one only needs to reverse that chemical reaction to reverse death, right? Professor Hill (David Gale), who has a slight obsession with Megan, doesn't exactly agree. Hill and Dean Halsey set out to prevent West from any further progress.
West gets Cane involved in his experiments when he's able to re-animate Rufus the cat. Cain's access to the morgue will allow West to try his glowing green serum on human beings (even though the Rufus experiment wasn't exactly a raging success). Of course, this leads to disastrous results and the deaths of several characters. Well, temporary deaths. It's not long before there's a major clash between the living and the re-animated, involving hypnotized zombies, armies of corpses, and headless sex. Or is that bodiless sex? Either way, it all makes up for a sure horror classic.
Re-Animator is widely considered one of the finest horror films of the 80s, and for good reason. Everything that makes for a good fright flick is in here. Over-the-top gore, high quality effects, nice touches of humor, great acting, and excellent pacing. I generally don't like excessive humor in my horror movies, because it comes off as too campy most of the time. I definitely prefer when the actors make an attempt to make the bizarre believable rather than poke fun at the obvious absurdities. But here we have a film where a major character is beheaded, and yet is still a prominent figure for more than 30 minutes, carrying his head around in a tray, and it works! Admittedly, there's a lot of laughs with this concept, but some decent scares as well, which is a tough balance to achieve.
Of course, another thing that makes this film work so well is the fantastic performances from top to bottom. Not only does everyone involved make such a great effort, they clearly had a lot of fun with their roles as well. Jeffrey Combs' portrayal of the on-the-edge Herbert West is one of the finest performances in genre history. Not to mention the late David Gale, who could be considered a "classy" actor, yet gives new meaning to the term "talking head" (as well as several other "head" jokes). Gale and Combs are such bitter rivals, it's hard to know who to root for sometimes. And despite the fact that they must play second banana to the two over-the-top antagonists, Bruce Abbott and Barbara Crampton balance out the craziness perfectly.
With all the talent and humor, one cannot forget that this is also one extremely gory film! Gore films are often looked down upon by snobby film fans (who always snidely mention that it's "scarier when you don't see everything"), and most of the time they're actually correct. But Re-Animator (along with possibly John Carpenter's The Thing) is proof that excess splatter can work in the right situations. Here we have a story that calls out for major bloodletting and the scenes here are unsettling but not overly disturbing. Gotta love that bone saw…
Re-Animator has long been one of my favorite films, and was one of the first I picked up several years ago when I began collecting laserdiscs. The Elite laserdisc was so good I never even bothered upgrading it to DVD when I added that format to my home theater system. But now Elite has made small but significant improvements with the release of a "Millenium Edition" which will make formerly shut-out fans overjoyed. Should fans that already own this on laser or DVD make the switch too? Let's take a look.
Elite's previous Re-Animator discs had fantastic video quality, and this edition improves it even further. The picture is enhanced for 16x9 televisions, which alone gives it the edge for many viewers. But I also noticed that it offers a little more clarity and realistic color tone than the older disc. The difference is not so amazing that everyone (at least not casual fans) needs to junk their old discs, but the serious fans (as well as those with anamorphic displays) will love this new THX transfer. As already mentioned, the color tones are much more realistic and the detail is exceptionally sharp. I compared the opening credits, and now you can read even the finest print in the medical drawings! Some of the dark scenes are still a little murky, but as Stuart Gordon mentions in the commentary, they were unfortunately filmed that way. There wasn't much room for improvement over the old transfer, yet it does look slightly better.
There are a real variety of sound options on this disc. The major news is the inclusion of DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. The DTS track was a lot "hotter" than the Dolby Digital, with much more use of the surrounds as well as deeper bass. But with both options, the surround sound is really only used on the music, the effects are still primarily mono. As always, I prefer this type of re-mix, which mainly keeps the intent of the original rather than adding gimmicky surrounds that were never there to begin with. Proof of this is the scene where the re-animated Rufus the cat is bouncing off the walls, a prime candidate for "re-cooking" of the original sound, but instead it is still primarily the center speaker used. Now, if you really like the music in this film, you have the option of listening to the isolated music score in Dolby Digital 5.1 as well. And finally, the real purists can select the original mono soundtrack if desired, but this is another example of a tasteful revision of the soundtrack. Go with one of the 5.1 tracks.
The previous Elite LD and DVD was a jam-packed special edition, and the Millenium Edition expands on that even further. First up however, let's take a look at the supplemental material that we first saw on the old 10th Anniversary Edition.
There are not one but two great audio commentaries here. The first one is a solo by director Stuart Gordon. It's quite dry and not exactly scene-specific, especially for the first half. It's more like Stuart Gordon just discussing the history and background of the film rather than the typical scene-by-scene "This was a tough scene to shoot…" comments. Despite its low excitement factor, it's an extremely informative and enjoyable commentary. And it provides a nice balance to the second commentary, which can only be referred to as "Party Time!". Yes, you've been invited to a Re-Animator watching party with producer Brian Yuzna, and stars Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, and Robert Sampson. Here it's jokes and fun about the making of the film. It's about a fun and enjoyable commentary as you'll ever hear, and it's good to know Barbara Crampton can still scream on cue. Required listening.
The same deleted and extended scenes show up on this disc as well, only this time in 16x9 anamorphic, a nice touch. Most of the extended scenes are "throwaway" material that was only used to bump up the running time of the heavily edited R-rated version for VHS release. About the only sequence of interest is one where we see that Herbert West has become addicted to his own re-animating serum. But even that distracts from the main focus of the film. The deleted "dream sequence" is here too, and it was a wise removal from the final print, as it foreshadows the end of the film way too much.
Now we get to the new stuff. The biggest new feature is a series of four video interviews. The first one is a conversation between Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon. While it's good to hear their reflections on the film nearly 20 years later, it's really just a static 48 minute video interview, where the duo spends a lot of time discussing people we don't really know. Plus, many of the better stories were already told in the commentaries, and are only reiterated here. The length of this interview, as well as the fact that there are no film clips or anything other than the two men talking, will appeal only to the hardcore fans of Re-Animator. Luckily, there ARE a lot of hardcore fans of Re-Animator, so at least Elite wasn't completely wasting their time, and it's great to know the two creators look back so fondly on this film.
The interview with writer Dennis Paoli is of a similar nature, but just 10 minutes in length. Richard Band then provides a detailed description of the origins and execution of the score (and he fully acknowledges the influence of Herrmann's Psycho score) and it's a lot more interesting than you'd think. Finally, Fangoria editor Tony Timpone provides the closest thing to a "fan's-eye" view when he discusses how his magazine (he was assistant editor at the time) and it's readers were so impressed with the film.
Furthering the music discussion is another segment, where Richard Band goes at length into 4 scenes and the musical style used, then those scenes are shown with just the isolated music score playing. I'm not a huge collector of horror movie soundtracks, but I know a great many people are, and this segment will be (pardon the pun) music to their ears. Very interesting, be sure to check it out.
A storyboard sequence, where the multi angle feature allows the viewer to alternate between the completed scene and the storyboards, is yet another feature on this jam-packed disc. This segment was a little less interesting to me, since you can't see the storyboard and the final film at the same time. I'd have preferred if the storyboards were in a "picture-in-picture" style so the comparisons would be much more visible.
Finally, there are the standard theatrical trailer (this too is in 16x9), five TV spots, cast and crew biographies, and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery. This photo gallery should not be overlooked, as it contains several dozen (perhaps more than a hundred, I didn't count) photos of the making of the film. These aren't your typical stills, these are make-up and special effects shots. About the only reason you wouldn't want to study all of these photos is that it might "ruin the magic" of the film for you. Probably the best photo gallery I've ever seen on a DVD.
Re-Animator is essential viewing. I'd be hard-pressed to find a horror fan that does not own a copy of this film. Now, while this "Millenium Edition" is not a giant leap over the previous Elite disc (which was a great disc in itself), there are subtle improvements with the sound and picture that conforms to today's home theater technology better. This was a heavily anticipated title, and most certainly does not disappoint in the slightest.
Movie - A+
Image Quality - A
Sound - A
Supplements - A+
- Running time - 1 hour 26 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- DTS 5.1 Digital Surround
- Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
- Isolated Dolby Digital 5.1 Music Score
- Original 2.0 Mono Mix
- Commentary with director Stuart Gordon
- Commentary with producer Brian Yuzna and stars Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, and Robert Sampson
- New video interviews with Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna
- New video interview with writer Dennis Paoli
- New video interview with composer Richard Band
- New video interview with Fangoria editor Tony Timpone
- 16 Extended scenes
- Deleted scene
- Theatrical Trailer
- 5 TV Spots
- Music discussion with composer Richard Band (4 scenes)
- Multi-angle storyboards
- Behind-the-scenes photo gallery
- Cast and crew biographies